The decisions were made in light of a $3.6 million tuition and fee revenue shortfall in the 2015 fiscal year.
President Robert Frank attributed a large part of that budget deficit to a 1.5 percent decrease in overall enrollment during this academic year, which he said is part of a larger national trend. The budget plan for 2016 included a projected flat enrollment rate.
“Across the country, entering freshmen have dropped, and we have to recognize that we have to tighten our belt just a little bit,” Frank said.
The approved plan increased tuition by 3 percent and student fees by 4.66 percent. This averages to an approximate 3.37 percent total increase, which translates to an additional $217 annually for students taking 15 credit hours.
The regents also approved a differential tuition increase of $15 per credit hour for the School of Engineering and a decrease of $31 per credit hour for the department of Speech and Hearing Sciences. Tuition increases ranging from 4.2 percent to 7.1 percent were also approved for UNM’s branch campuses.
In addition to changes in tuition, a plan proposed by first-time Regent Rob Doughty which is intended to motivate students to graduate in four years was approved. The plan would make a student’s final semester free – as long as that student would graduate within four years of initial enrollment at UNM.
“The idea here is that we would really provide an incentive for students to graduate in four years,” said Kevin Stevenson, the director of strategic projects. “When fully implemented, this plan would provide tuition at no cost in the eighth semester of their academic career.”
Doughty said the plan would encourage students to graduate and enter the workforce more quickly, in addition to motivating out-of-state students to attend UNM. However, Student Regent Heidi Overton and Regent James Koch expressed some concerns over the logistics of the plan.
“This puts pressure on the University, because the University is going to have to make sure they have the classes so these students can graduate,” Koch said.
Overton said, in her experience, many UNM students don’t graduate in four years because not all of the required classes for their majors are offered in a convenient time frame.
ASUNM President Rachel Williams questioned whether the incentive was the most effective use of tuition money to increase four-year graduation. She said she would rather that money, about $2,800 per student, be allocated to programs for underrepresented students such as the College Enrichment Program or tutoring at the Center for Academic Program Support.
“I think that the students who will be more incentivized to graduate in four years are not necessarily the students that we really, really need to encourage to graduate in four years,” she said. “I would prefer to see this money given to some of our resource centers or to some of our enhancing programs.”
Regent Bradley Hosmer expressed similar questions about the incentive as a strategy to increase four-year graduation, but he said the University should aim for a higher percentage of on-time graduates in any reasonable way possible.
“The payoff for on-time graduation is terrific,” he said. “It’s one of the most strategic investments we can make. It pays off for the students, it pays off for the University and it pays off for the state in every important way.”
Lena Guidi is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DailyLobo.